How Do I Love?

by Kate Henley Averett

Last week I was negotiating my way to my car in a crowded city parking lot. If you’ve lived in the Boston area, I’m sure you know the kind – where all the spaces are too small and the constant bustle of people makes it nearly impossible to walk, let alone drive, though it. I was juggling my iced coffee, bagel, phone, and keys and trying to get to the car without interrupting the flow of traffic when something stopped me. The car parked next to ours caught my eye. A smile broke over my face as I read the bumper sticker:

“Love is the only solution.” – Dorothy Day

Even in Cambridge, MA, it’s not every day that you see a Dorothy Day bumper sticker. I tossed the keys to my wife so she could start the car while I snapped a picture with my cell phone. “Just when I let her slip out of the forefront of my mind,” I thought to myself, “she shows up in the unlikeliest of places.”

I’ve blogged about her before, so those of you who read the blog regularly may already know that I have a thing about Dorothy Day. I spent my senior year of college immersed in her writings, and was forever changed by the experience. She was my path to the social teachings of the Church, and it was through the challenges her writings gave me that I started to think really seriously about marginalized peoples and what the preferential option for the poor had to do with me, personally and vocationally. And quite frankly, if it wasn’t for her I don’t think I would’ve stayed in the Church as long as I did.

Dorothy showed up again today, although this time in a slightly more predictable way. We were clearing off the bookshelves, packing all of our books in preparation for our imminent move, and I came across my well-loved copy of The Long Loneliness. I bought it used in 2003, and the already well-worn book has since endured multiple readings, layers of notes scribbled in the margins, and a few too many times being wedged into my backpack. Again, I couldn’t help but smile as I carefully found a spot for it among the other books I was loading into the box.

But as usually happens when she works her way further and further into my consciousness, the sweet sense of nostalgia didn’t last long. As Dorothy Day has bounced around in my head this evening, I’m finding myself more and more uneasy. Specifically, I’m struck by just how focused on this move I’ve been these past few weeks, worrying about logistics and planning and nerves about moving and my own physical discomfort, packing our tiny, un-air conditioned apartment in this heat. Whether I’ve been grouchy, anxious, frustrated, or even excited, it’s pretty safe to say that my thoughts have been pretty centered on my self of late.

“Love is the only solution.” I could go on for hours about what, in Dorothy Day’s theology and praxis, love is, but at the very least, it is certainly not self-centered. I sit here thinking about those who have lost their livelihoods on the gulf coast, about displaced people in Haiti whose day-to-day living is so precarious, and countless other examples of those whose discomfort this night is caused not, like my own, by heat and cramped living spaces, but by systemic injustice. What am I doing, right now, that is in any way acting out of love for these people? For any people?

I know that nothing I can do tonight, from my cluttered living room, can overturn deeply ingrained systems of injustice. But I also know that shutting out the rest of the world while I focus solely on myself is not making me part of the solution. So how do I love, right now? And I mean really love, a Dorothy Day kind of love – not a touchy-feely, romanticized love but the harsh and dreadful, Dostoyevskian kind that Day was so adamant about – a put myself on the line, make myself completely vulnerable for you, blur the boundaries between us until we don’t know where your pain ends and mine begins, kind of love? The kind of love that overwhelms you, knocks you off balance, makes you feel raw? How can I love like this, right here, right now?

Kate Henley Averett received her Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Mount Holyoke College in 2004 and her Master of Divinity from Harvard University in 2008. She will be moving from Cambridge, MA to Austin, TX at the end of this month to begin doctoral work in Sociology at the University of Texas. She is excited to explore new and challenging ways to love and to work for justice through her research and writing.

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4 Responses

  1. Yeah count how many of those stickers you see in Texas…

  2. […] July 14, 2010 This piece was originally written for, and published on, From the Pews in the Back. […]

  3. I’m so on this page with you right now. As often is the case. I think for me, too, it’s fear that when I actually begin with this kind of love, I will be overwhelmed in a bad way, I won’t actually be able to do anything, etc. Clearly I need to get to know Dorothy Day better, too…

  4. Beautiful reminder, Kate. Thank you.

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